Fans have been clamoring for years for racing to come back to North Wilkesboro Speedway. Several times there have been announcements followed by disappointment as different people and ventures have attempted to revive the legendary track. This past November, Alton McBride Jr. and his Speedway Associates Inc. threw their hat into the ring and announced an ambitious attempt at bringing the old course back to life with racing from multiple series along with two festivals and hopefully a fair. While longtime fans have heard it all before, now more than ever it looks like it is really going to happen.
Proof that the surface is ready for racing was given last week when Kevin Harvick took to the fabled racetrack for a test with his Cup car. The 5/8 mile oval appears to be in good shape and getting better. “The surface is fine. They’ve done a really good job of cleaning it up. They have a lot still left to do with some of the facility. Obviously they’re working on the surface to fix some of the cracks and things, but we were one of the first ones there just trying to feel out exactly what it would be useful for and things like that. But it still wears the tires out and still drives around like I guess it used to. That was the first time I’d ever been there. But they’ve done a really good job of cleaning everything up and it looks like any other racetrack.”
Another test that took place at the fabled track was for the Sunoco National Tour and Wall’s Roofing U-Car Clash Series March 6th and 7th. There was a good crowd of cars and engineers from Goodyear on hand to do a tire test in preparation for the return of the Sunoco Tour as the feature event for the King’s Ransom 300 that will be run this fall. The U-Cars were turning laps in the 85-mph range, which is faster than they normally ever run, since this track is bigger than the tracks they usually compete on. The Sunoco cars, featuring the new Ford Mustang, were primarily there doing a test for Goodyear to establish what tire compound the company will bring back to the track for the King’s Ransom race in October.
Ron Varney, the president of the Sunoco National Tour was on hand for the test and was most definitely pleased with the results and awed by the facility’s rich history. “The car looked great out there and I really appreciate Justin Marks and Bryan Ortiz for coming out and shaking down the car for us throughout the weekend. It was really neat to go down to North Wilkesboro and see everything. You can really feel the history in the place.”
It won’t be long before the first laps turned in anger take place at the track that has been all but mothballed since 1996. On May 15th the speedway is going to be part of an all day event surrounding the release of Red Dirt Rising, an independent film based on a true story. Red Dirt Rising is the story of love in the time of moonshine as three of racing’s earliest heroes come of age to find escape from life’s challenges on the track, ultimately shaping the future of their families – and auto racing – during the Fightin’ ’40s. Not only will the film debut that day, but Matt Dylan, whose music video Carolina Moonshine was filmed partly at the track, will perform in concert. The day will also include a Ford Flat Head race, which will be the first racing competition held at the track since 1996.
Following that inaugural event, the Southern Truck and Tractor pullers will take to the facility on July 3rd for a double show. It has been 25 years since there was a pull at North Wilkesboro. In September, on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, the PASS series will be holding a 200-lap race for the super late model touring series. One month later, on October 3rd, the USAR Pro Cup Series will be taking to the track with a yet to be determined support series for the last race weekend before the big season finale. The year will come to a close from October 29th through the 31st with the First Annual Short Track Shootout Weekend, capped off by the King’s Ransom 300. That final weekend will feature racing in seven different classes with 35 laps for the Allison Legacy Series, 40 laps for the U-Car Clash Series, 50 laps for the Rolling Thunder Modifieds, 50 laps for Street Stocks, 75 laps for the United States Super Truck Series, 75 laps for limited late model stocks and 150 laps for late model stocks. There is a three-day weekend pass available for all of the events for $30 for adults. That is really hard to beat considering the amount of action that is going to take place at such a historic racing facility.
Bruton Smith maintained for years that he would not improve this facility unless he had complete control of it, but once he did he’d bring racing back to North Wilkesboro. Well, after purchasing New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he gained full control of North Wilkesboro, and promptly said that the place wasn’t worth the capital expenditure to fix it up, but he’d gladly sell it for $12,000,000. Seems as though a place worth $12 million would be worth spending a few hundred thousand more on to spruce it up a little bit. But with that being said, Alton McBride and his people are to be commended for the effort they have put in so far and continue to put in to thankfully bring racing back to North Wilkesboro.
There have been many hopes and dreams dashed over the last 14 years as old-school race fans have longed to see their beloved track once again host a racing event. While you can never count your chickens before they are hatched, if the good Lord is willing and the creek doesn’t rise, we very well could be about to see actual, real, live racing take place once again at the 5/8-mile track in the foothills of North Carolina.